U.S. lawmakers and America's biggest business lobby urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday not to scrap a free trade agreement with longstanding ally South Korea, especially at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear missile tests.
The pressure on Trump to keep the five-year-old U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement in place came after he said on Saturday that he would discuss its the fate with advisers this week.
The chairmen and senior Democrats on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee said in a statement that North Korea's sixth and largest nuclear bomb test on Sunday "underscores the vital importance of the strong alliance between the United States and South Korea."
The statement by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, senior Democrat Richard Neal and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and senior Democrat Ron Wyden
said talks to improve South Korea's implementation and compliance with the trade agreement were welcome. But it said the agreement itself was central to the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
In a separate letter to Trump, Senator Joni Ernest, a Republican from Iowa in the U.S. corn belt, expressed her "strong concern" about a possible withdrawal from the agreement. She said the South Korean market was especially important for U.S. beef, corn and pork producers.
"Terminating KORUS would leave our farmers at a competitive disadvantage to those in other countries that enjoy preferential trade access to Korea," Ernst wrote, adding: "I respectfully urge you not withdraw the U.S. from KORUS."
In a strongly worded statement, Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opposed any withdrawal "in the strongest possible terms."
Donohue, whose group represents more than 3 million U.S. businesses, said the move would damage relations between the White House and business community.
"We do not believe this move would create a single American job — but it would cost many," said Donohue.
"Ironically, states across mid-America that voted for the president would take the hit from withdrawal as their agricultural and manufactured goods exports fell in the wake of such a move," he said, adding: "We urge the administration not to make this rash and irresponsible move."
(Reporting By Richard Cowan and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)